Anita Monoian, president and CEO of Yakima Neighborhood Health Services, will retire at the end of September. (Photo illustration by Amanda Ray, Yakima Herald-Republic file)

When Anita Monoian began writing a grant request for Yakima Neighborhood Health Services in 1979, the 4-year-old preventive health care organization consisted of an east Yakima clinic that saw an average of 12 patients a day. At the time, Monoian, a single parent, was preparing to move her family to Seattle and go to work for a hospital there.

Plans can change.

Within weeks, Monoian had been promoted to CEO at Neighborhood Health, beginning a 41-year span of growth for YNHS and cementing an unwavering determination to provide health care for the underserved populations of Yakima County and beyond.

Today, Neighborhood Health is a full-fledged primary care organization that operates in 10 locations from Yakima to Sunnyside and employs about 300 people. Services include pediatric care, internal medicine, women’s health, dental and vision care, and behavioral health. Neighborhood Health clinics recorded more than 92,000 patient visits last year.

Now, after more than 40 years at the helm, Monoian, 77, has announced her retirement. On Oct. 1, Rhonda Hauff, who joined Neighborhood Health in 1983 and currently serves as COO and deputy CEO, will become CEO.

“YNHS has been a labor of love for me for more than 41 years, so it is hard to say goodbye,” Monoian said in a Neighborhood Health news release. “But I am leaving the organization in good hands.”

Thousands of Yakima County residents owe thanks to Monoian, Neighborhood Health and other community health organizations with roots here. But Monoian’s influence on community health care stretches far beyond Central Washington. She is one-time chairwoman and a current board member of the National Association of Community Health Centers, an agency that advocates for more than 1,400 community health organizations and 29 million people in the U.S. In 2017, the group honored her with the Louis S. Garcia Community/Migrant Health Service Award, recognizing her contributions to primary health care management and service in migrant and farmworker health.

“Anita’s voice has risen to the top countless times on Capitol Hill as she championed care for the poor, the disenfranchised, the uninsured with the nation’s lawmakers,” said Tom Van Coverden, NACHC president and CEO. “She is a well-known and respected leader and expert witness.”

Monoian also was part of then-U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton’s health policy committee and has served on many other health care boards and committees across the state over the years.

The news release said Monoian would talk more about her retirement as her departure date draws near. We can only speculate, but Hauff’s recent remarks are likely spot-on: “I don’t think there’s any question that health care for all is definitely her passion. I suspect that will continue for a long time to come.”

Said Don Hinman, Neighborhood Health board chairman: “Those who have worked with Anita over the years know her commitment to patients and employees has always been paramount. And her pursuit of excellence is roundly recognized in the community health center world and beyond.”

To Monoian, we wish her the best in her retirement. To Hauff and others who remain at Neighborhood Health, we wish them success and a smooth transition, particularly as they and the Valley’s other community health agencies navigate the dangerous waters of the COVID-19 pandemic and strive to bring quality health care to the county’s most vulnerable populations.

Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider and Bruce Drysdale.